A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Different Kind of Subway Strike

Christopher Priest is not only one of my favorite comic authors, he also has what may be my favorite comic creator blog. Even though we differ a lot on politics, his posts on the subject are still insightful and persuasive.

This post of his gets progressively political as it goes on, but Priest begins with his own fact-check of an early Brubaker issue of Captain America:

So, Cap battles these terrorists, who, for reasons that make no sense to me, clamber on top of the subway car, and who have, if I remember correctly, loaded the train with some manner of explosive. Having been born and raised in New York City, and having been a bigger NYC subway fan than I ever was a comic book fan, I know way more about the subway than I do about terrorists (or, judging form my sales record, writing comics). The scenario was simply not workable...

It's not something a Georgia boy like me would ever know, but it's a little surprising that it didn't catch the eye of anyone up at the NYC-centric Marvel office.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Visit From St. Nitpick-las

Smallville: Lexmas

How about a Christmas-themed nitpick?

In the Smallville Christmas episode from last week, Lex has a vision of a future where he's renounced his quest for money and power, and is instead married to Lana and living a middle-class lifestyle. Early in the episode, Lex takes his son (named, appropriately, Alexander) to get a tree on Christmas Eve. Alexander convinces Lex to buy a rather large tree, and when they get home, Lana expresses some brief disapproval over how much they've spent on the tree.

My sister's birthday is December 18, so my family has always bought our tree during the week prior to Christmas. Sure, we didn't get a whole month to enjoy fallen needles and pine scent, but there was a financial bonus: Christmas trees get cheap the week before Christmas. Last Sunday, my dad picked up a tree at Home Depot that had been discounted from $30 to $15.

I presume that the Christmas tree economy operates more or less the same in Kansas as in Georgia. After all, the Christmas tree is a commodity that has a certain value up until December 25, but is just plain worthless after that date. Sellers want to unload their supply before they're stuck with an unsellable and unsalvagable inventory. So trees get discounted, and by Christmas Eve, when Lex buys his tree, they ought to be practically giving them away. For fun, stop by a tree lot tonight and see how much the trees are selling for during the waning hours of Christmas Eve.

Then again, we never actually learn what Lex paid. Maybe future Lana doesn't understand the Christmas tree market, and is irked with Lex for no reason.

This reminds me of an idea my family has tossed around for years, but has never followed through on. If you'd like to have a more cost-conscious Christmas, simply move the celebration to a later date, such as Epiphany. Then you can take advantage of all the post-Christmas sales, the heavy discounts on wrapping paper and decorations, and get a tree for nothing at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

She-Hulk #2: The Trial of Charles Czarkowski

And now, the much-delayed review of the first trial of the new She-Hulk series. To recap, billionaire Charles Czarkowski received a message from a man in the future, who said that he was going to kill Czarkowski. Czarkowski shot his supposed assailant, John Doe, who was unarmed at the time, and his act was captured by a nearby photographer. He's now on trial for attempted murder, his attorney is Jen "She-Hulk" Walters, and he is pleading self-defense.

A commenter in the replies to the last thread, trilobite, has already pointed out a few problems presented in this issue. Trilobite offered up a particularly good criticism relating to Jen's first witness, wherein Jen seemingly interrupts the prosecution's case to call a witness of her own, and one who probably shouldn't have been allowed to testify to start with.

The first oddity of the trial shows up in its very first panel. We see the prosecutor giving his opening statement, and behind him is projected a 5-foot-tall image of the photograph of Czarkowski shooting his victim.

This presents a legal problem and a practical one. The legal problem is that the photo is evidence. Evidence that is supposed to be introduced and shown to the jury during the trial. If a photo of the crime exists, the jury is never going to see it during opening statements. Even if the defense stipulated to the photo (as Jen states in the next panel), it's just plain foolish to allow the jury's first impression of the defendant to be an image of him committing the crime in question. The defense is giving itself a hole that it will have to dig out of. In fact, it is so likely to bias the jury, that if convicted, there's a chance the defendant could get a retrial on this alone.

The practical problem is plot-based: after going to all the trouble of pulling jurors out of the past who would be untainted by the photo, why is it that the very first thing the jurors see in this case is that same photo? Doesn't this defeat the whole purpose of manipulating the space-time continuum for the sake of a jury pool?

The prosecution's seemingly only witness is the medical examiner, who testifies that John Doe was shot in the back. But he also says "[T]here was no way [John Doe] could have posed an imminent threat." This should have brought a massive objection from Jen, because the medical examiner is stating a legal conclusion, and is testifying on a matter that is far outside the scope of his knowledge. Stating legal conclusions is a big no-no for witnesses. The question of whether a threat existed (or, at least, whether Czarkowski reasonably believed there was one) is for the jury to decide; it's definitely not within the scope of the medical examiner, who merely examined the victim's body. How could a medical exam possibly tell him whether or not a threat existed?

By this point in the trial, we've seen a couple of references to the 22 days that have passed between the shooting and the trial. Clearly, the court system in the Marvel Universe works at a ridiculously fast pace. So fast, in fact, that it would seem that Jen and Pug only had about two weeks to prepare their entire defense, if not less, for this major murder case. And unlike, say, the trial of the Shadow Thief in Manhunter, there's no editorial need to pretend that a trial could happen that fast. 22 days is just an absurdly and unnecessarily short time to have passed before trial.

There are some other little things (mostly objectionable questions and narratives on Jen's part, an inappropriate usage of "attorney/client privilege," and much of Jen's second witness), but I'd rather focus on the big legal issue here: Czarkowski's claim of self-defense. Because despite the general feel of the issue, he doesn't have a very strong self-defense case.

Self-defense is what is called an "affirmative defense." That means the burden of proving it falls on the defense, and not on the prosecution. Furthermore, this is an instance of self-defense that involved deadly force. So Czarkowski has the burden of showing that he was in reasonable fear of serious injury or death.

Now consider the circumstances. Czarkowski receives an unsolicited message from a stranger in the future, who says that he is going to travel back in time and kill Czarkowski. There is no accompanying image of the claimed act, no proof that Czarkowski is actually dead at the time the message was sent, and no evidence provided supporting the 'murdering time-traveler' story. There is only the word of the stranger, which pretty much boils down to "I'm going to kill you."

Sounds kind of like a death threat, doesn't it? And how do you think the justice system would react if a person who'd received a death threat responded by attempting to kill the person who sent it? After all, when Czarkowski shot the man who 'threatened' him, the man was unarmed and there was nothing to support the belief that he was. All he had was the word of the stranger himself, and for all Czarkowski knew, the guy could have been lying.

Or to hew a little closer to the story's situation, imagine if a person learned that a hit had been taken out on his life. He learns the identity of his supposed assassin, and where the hit is supposed to take place. Can he claim self-defense if he shoots his alleged hitman in advance? Particularly if the hitman was unarmed at the time? It has a very Old West Justice feel to it, but our modern courts wouldn't much approve of such actions. You might be able to avoid first degree murder charges and serious jail time if your story panned out, but the most you can hope for out of a 'self-defense' claim is that you could plead out to a manslaughter conviction.

Furthermore, in New York, as in other states, a person has a duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force. Czarkowski shot his unarmed 'killer' in the back, in the middle of a crosswalk on a busy street, and before his 'killer' even saw him. He most definitely did not retreat, so a New York court would be inclined to frown on his decision to use deadly force so quickly.

Now admittedly, I come at this from a prosecutor's perspective. My point isn't that Czarkowski's self-defense claim is impossible, but rather that it is seriously flawed. And the ending of the story shows exactly why. As it turns out, the stranger was not telling the truth after all. No one was coming to kill Czarkowski, especially not the stranger who 'confessed' to committing the act. There was no threat, and Czarkowski lacked good reason to believe there was one.

Friday, December 16, 2005

What are they teaching in schools these days?

Truth to tell, I was supposed to write about Green Arrow's recent appearance in Birds of Prey, but there's really not much new to say about that one; the few errors that appear are mostly minor and are things I've already flogged to death in previous posts. Fortunately, Geoff Johns and Tony S. Daniel have stepped up to the plate and provided grist for the mill.

Teen Titans #30

First off, it's wonderful to see a new Captain Carrot story. If you agree, e-mail DC and tell them so. That way maybe they'll give us a new series. Wouldn't that be nice?

But I digress.

So anyway, the Titans are gathering for battle against Brother Blood and his undead minions. We finally get to the new Speedy, A.K.A. Mia...

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Mia, according to what she tells Roy, is in school, at shop class, working on a "stupid flash grenade arrow" in a vise grip. Okay, so let's leave aside for a moment the painfully obvious fact that in these paranoid and litigious times there is not a high school in America (in any universe, DC or otherwise) that is going to allow a minor to (a) make arrows on campus and (b) make explosive or incendiary arrows in class. No, sorry, it's not going to happen. This scenario is more unbelievable than any of the superpowered adventures in the rest of the book. Heck, the Captain Carrot sequences have more credibility than this scene. But, as I said, we'll leave that aside and get to the really egregious part.

The really egregious part being, one does not construct arrows in a heavy-duty woodworking vise. One would use a fletching jig. Here's a simple one from Cartel:

Secondly, the arrow Mia is shown working on is a good 10" too short for her. Based on her age, height and build, I would guess her draw length to be somewhere in the vicinity of 28", maybe even 29" if her form is perfect (it's not). The arrow she has clamped up there getting crushed and ruined in that clumsy iron monstrosity looks to be maybe 16-18" long at the outside.

If she tried to shoot that arrow, one of two things will happen:

1. She will draw the bow to 16" and release. Let's assume for the heck of it that she's using a 40 pound bow. There's a mathematical formula we can use: that 40 pounds is the draw weight when the bow is drawn to 29"; for each inch below that length, we subtract 2 pounds of power. 29" minus 16" leaves 13". 13 times two is 26. 40 minus 26 is 14. Mia will shoot that arrow with the equivalent of a 14 pound bow. With that big heavy payload, that arrow will hit the ground within about 30 yards. Hopefully that's far enough for her not to be injured by the flash grenade.

2. She will accidentally draw the bow too far back, the arrow will fall off the rest, and she will shoot herself right through her left hand. Ouch.

I know Ollie wants her to learn to do it herself, but does he really want her to learn the hard way?

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Idle Thoughts and Igle's Thoughts

In case you've been wondering why new posts have become so sparse as of late, it's because I finally started working last month. It began as something of a temp job, has since evolved into a full-time position, and may eventually take on a more permanent status. There's also another job that I'm hoping and praying to land, as it's in the office that I've wanted to work in for over a year.

So with work suddenly occupying a sizeable chunk of my previously free time, I've yet to adapt my schedule to accomodate regular blogging. She-Hulk #2, in particular, has been on my mind for two weeks, but I simply haven't taken the time to put my thoughts into words yet. Hopefully, I'll get that done this weekend.

For the moment, though, I offer an exchange from Newsarama's interview with Firestorm artist Jamal Igle:

Jamal Igle: I wanted to create a symbol for Jason, something marketable. Something that when comics fans see the symbol, they immediately think "FIRESTORM!" That was something that I think Ronnie's suit lacked. Ronnie's symbol is supposed to be protons surrounding the nucleus of an atom, but I don't think anyone ever got that, I know I didn't when I was younger.

Newsarama: Wouldn’t it be electrons, since protons are in the nucleus of an atom?

Igle: And it was all confusing. Did I mention that it was confusing, and I’m an artist, not a nuclear scientist? If you want nuclear physics, talk to Stuart. [laughs